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5/11/09

Great Peru Cocaine report from Associated Press


Yes, Associated Press. Not joking, either.

Here comes the first half (click through to read it all...very recommended click, too) of a report by Andrew Whalen of AP on the VRAE region of Peru, the 'Shining Path' terrorists, the local coca growing and cocaine producing trade, the life of poverty and the detachment from Lima felt by these people.

Most LatAm watchers (me included) roll their eyes when they see an AP story coming through as the newswire has a reputation of spinning out the story that The North wants to hear instead of telling it like it is. But credit where due, this is a great piece of reporting and full kudos and cyberbackslap goes out to Whalen for the note. Now read on and learn a little about how Peru really is.

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Cocaine trade revitalizes Peruvian rebels

UNION MANTARO, Peru (AP) — The last town on a rutted dirt road in Peru's most prolific cocaine-producing highland valley, Union Mantaro has no police post, no church and no health clinic. Its 600 people lack running water and electricity.

Until January, makeshift huts of wood and plastic housed scores of refugees from a government offensive against a small but lethal band of drug-funded rebels, revitalized remnants of the fanatical Shining Path guerrilla movement.

Most have since returned to outlying mountain villages as the rebels frustrated the army's campaign against them, killing 33 soldiers and wounding 48 since the military arrived in August. The rebel death toll is unknown.

The army's setbacks — the narcotics trade does not appear to have been dented — are more than a worrisome embarrassment for the central government in faraway Lima. Critics say President Alan Garcia needs to act fast or risk greater instability.

Peru's cocaine trade — No. 2 after Colombia's — is booming after a 1990s drop-off. The government calls the insurgents who've used it to rearm ideologically bankrupt, but peasants who have coexisted with them don't necessarily agree. At least not publicly.

The gateway to the Shining Path's jungle-draped stronghold, Union Mantaro is a bumpy two-day drive down the Andes' eastern slopes from the provincial capital of Ayacucho, where the movement was born nearly three decades ago.

Along the road into the Apurimac and Ene valley, women and children dry coca leaves on long canvas beds in front of half-built, brick homes. A pro-coca political party has painted the leaf on wooden shacks in villages so poor that parents must chip in to pay teachers' salaries.

Coca production soared in this rugged region just 100 miles from the world-renowned Machu Picchu ruins as migrants more than doubled its population to some 240,000 in little more than a decade.

Growing the crop, a mild stimulant widely chewed in the Andes, is legal in Peru, but authorities say nine-tenths of it goes to the illegal manufacture of cocaine.

"Politicians in Lima don't know what's going on in these communities. If they did, they would know the solution to the problem isn't more soldiers," says Marisela Quispe, a government worker who keeps track of victims of political violence.